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"We are in the Congo now" : Sweden and the trinity of peacekeeping during the Congo crisis 1960-1964


Summary, in English

his work examines the contemporaneous Swedish experience from participation in the United Nations operation in the Congo, ONUC, from 1960 to 1964. Inspired by Carl von Clausewitz’s understanding of war as a trinity consisting of three ‘nodes’: the political authority, the people and the military, this study focuses on the ONUC experience as described by the government in Sweden, leading Swedish news media and the Swedish battalions serving in the Congo.

The study demonstrates how the decision to participate, when urged by the UN in 1960, was, more or less, an unanimous decision in Sweden. Several aspects, well rooted in the Swedish self-perception in the 1960s, contributed to the decision. Above all Sweden was considered particularly well suited for the peacekeeping duty. This emanated from a notion of Sweden as a well functioning society, built on consensus and without a ‘colonial baggage’ or open political affiliations in the Cold War. Furthermore, in the UN Sweden saw a way to forward the nation’s political interests, particularly the notion of neutrality. Hence, confidence in the UN was considerable and support to the organisation’s goals was often formulated in terms of ‘duty’.

The ONUC, however, soon turned out to be a very confusing and violent mission. In 1961 and 1962 Swedish battalions became directly involved in military confrontations and Swedish soldiers both killed and were killed in the Congo. At the same time influential parts of the world opinion, especially in Belgium, Great Britain and France, accused the UN of unjust and illegitimate behaviour in the Congo. The study shows that the events in the Congo tested the former pre-understanding in Sweden of what peacekeeping was, or ought to be, and thus challenged the domestic support for Swedish participation. Hence, the events in the Congo tested the stability of the analytic trinity. Dichotomies such as war–peace, national–international and military–civilian were given different meanings as they were described and discussed by the different nodes in the trinity.

In the end, the trinity held together much due to political consensus in Sweden and by the fact that the UN in 1963 prevailed in the military struggle in the Congo. This did not bring an end to the political chaos in the Congo but it created a window of opportunities for the UN and Sweden to withdraw in 1964, claiming that the mandate had been fulfilled.


Publishing year





Studia Historica Lundensia



Document type



Department of History, Lund university


  • History


  • UN
  • government
  • ONUC
  • Peacekeeping
  • Sweden
  • Congo
  • Katanga
  • 1960s
  • Cold War
  • Carl von Clausewitz
  • trinity
  • conflict
  • war
  • military
  • media




  • Lund Human Rights Research Hub


  • ISSN: 1650-755X
  • ISBN: 978-91-7473-364-8

Defence date

5 October 2012

Defence time


Defence place

Historiska institutionen


  • Martin Hårdstedt